Wednesday, July 30, 2014


The Precipice
By Tara Southwell

Ferd opened his eyes, his headrest throbbing. He scrambled to his feet, slipping on loose stone and debris from the rockslide- Detonation rent the morning silence, gravel pittering, pattering, rushing, boulders tumbling, wood cracking -That was no accident. Where are the others? Where’s Cassia?

He called to her, coughing dust. A pained voice issued from his left. “Ferd! I can’t climb up!” He made his way through the dust, tested the ground with one foot, dread welling up. His foot poked out for another step and found-

The cliff.

A harsh crosswind blew up from the valley, buffeting Cassia, clinging to a branch over the chasm. A split in the dark red leather across her back oozed resin and stuffing. The split widened, the branch shuddered and her weight pulled it further out of the rock. He reached for her, but she was too far away.

Echoes of angry voices reached him. Cassia’s eyes narrowed with resolve. “You have to go.”

“No, I won’t leave you. I promised we’d reach the Master together.”

Ferd grabbed one of his legs, fitted snugly to his seat with nothing more than craftsmanship and glue. She saw what he was about to do, opened her mouth to scream but didn’t dare. With a snap of dry tinder and a groan of pain, the leg was in his hand. He crossed to the edge of the drop and lowered it. She reached, her leather slipped.

He gritted his teeth, spraying splinters, wedged a foot in a crack in the stone, then leaned even further over empty space. This time her grip held. Both of them screamed as he heaved, their voices multiplied a thousandfold before she landed beside him, puffing up more dust.
They embraced, sap tears running from their headrests, but their relief was short lived. By now the villagers had heard their struggle and were closing in. Brother and sister held each other up as they hobbled away. The dust cleared and Ferd was able to see the temple near the peak of the mountain. “We’re almost there. The Master will save us.”

“What about the others?”

“They-” He paused, bit back the lie. “I don’t know, but I don’t think they made it.”

She tried to turn around. “We have to go back.”

“Anyone who survived the rock slide is probably hiding. If we go back now we’ll lead the search party right to them.” His eyes conveyed his desperation; if she tried to go back he would just carry her, no matter how much she fought. She accepted his sophistry and turned back toward the path.

The climb was treacherous. Gravel and cracks in the stone tripped them up, sent them plunging forward against gravity or sliding back the way they’d come. Ferd murmured his mantra, “The Master will save us.” while Cassia moaned and tried to stem the flow of resin from her wounds. They pressed on until they reached the top of the path. Before them, casting cool shade on their hot leather, stood the temple. The door asked, “What brings such ill used chairs here?”

“We’ve come to see the Master. Please, sir, my sister and I need help.”

The door swung open. “There might not be any help for you here.”

Ferd wiped sap from his brow. “A chance is better than nothing.”

“Come in, then.”

They entered the temple. An elderly hatstand rushed forward to greet them, dropping a fedora in the process. “Oh, you poor dears! This way!” She led them down the hall, shedding bonnets, into the temple proper. Shining saws, glittering wood rasps and pots of glue welcomed them home. Ferd propped Cassia against a wall and followed the hatstand to a worktable on the far side of the room. He fell on his face at the sight of the Master, seated on a stool before a music box, which he was inlaying with gold with the aid of a magnifying glass.

The hatstand cleared her throat and announced, “Master Pinocchio, pilgrims have arrived in need of repair.”

He looked up from his work, spun on the seat of the stool, then hit the floor with a clatter. The hatstand helped him back to his feet while he grumbled about cut strings. His voice was high but his tone was grim as he commanded, “Tell me what happened.”

Ferd stammered through his explanation: their villagers didn’t have enough wood in the valley to make it through winter, so they turned on their former friends with their axes. He and Cassia escaped the chopping block, the others were probably dead and-

Pinocchio lifted his painted face from his hands. “They begged me to help them settle the valley. They were too few to make use of the land and would starve without more hands to do the work. ‘Maybe this will show the humans how generous the Enchanted Ones can be!’ I said. I should have known better. I should have kept you here, or not made you at all!” The hatstand wrapped an arm around Pinocchio's shoulders. “I shall fix you and your sister, but then you must flee.”

The Master, the source of his life, was a frail old man covered in fading paint, clothed in threadbare overalls. The call to fight he craved would not come. No matter where they went, there would be humans. What would keep them from using his sister for firewood?

The hatstand tried to reason with the Master. “Sir, they have nowhere to go. Why can’t they stay?”

He looked at her, looked at Ferd, looked at his own weathered hands. “They can stay.”

While Pinocchio gathered the necessary tools, Ferd hobbled back to Cassia. “The Master will fix us. We’ll be safe here.”

She smiled, patting his arm. “Everything will be well.”

Maybe, to her, it would be.

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Tara lives in southeast Michigan with her family. She writes YA fantasy and science fiction with a literary bent. Tara also blogs about the craft of writing and her experiences learning how to be a writer.


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